For over one hundred years baseball was America’s pastime. Men, young and old, cherished spending a summer afternoon at the ballpark singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame while eating a delicious hot dog. It was baseball that kids chose to play in the afternoons after finishing their homework or during the summer when there was nothing else to do. Everyone played baseball. But in the summer of 1994, America’s love affair with baseball ended and its place as America’s pastime ceased.
With the work stoppage in August of 1994 and the eventual cancellation of the 1994 postseason and World Series, major league baseball suffered its most damaging blow. More than just the revenues associated with empty ballparks and concession stands, baseball lost the heartbeat of its game, the fans. It was a disheartening blow for a league that was experiencing increases in attendance and television viewership. Teams like the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees were setting attendance records and watching as their team apparel was selling at astronomical rates.
The 1994 strike hinged on the distrust between owners and players. With salaries increasing uncontrollably, some owners felt the playing field unfair and therefore uncompetitive. The players felt that the owners’ attempts to correct this wrong had little benefit to and for the players. Led by acting commissioner, Bud Selig, the postseason was eventually cancelled and baseball faced an uncertain future. Over the next six months, things unraveled to the point that President Bill Clinton sought to intervene and baseball players sought relief through the court system.
But with the fans allowed to simmer for over two hundred days as major league baseball and its players struggled to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement, when the game returned on April 2nd 1995, it did so without its fans. Teams all over the league including the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs, the most visible franchises in the major leagues watched as their rabid fan base abandoned the game and its stadiums feeling betrayed by the owners and players. If the Yankees opening day game on April 25th, 1995 was any indication, major league baseball was in for some hard times as baseball’s most storied franchise saw its lowest opening day attendance in many years.
Throughout the 1995 season, major league baseball languished as players struggled with the wares of being away from baseball for six months. With the play being sub par and the energy and excitement of the game gone, baseball continued to fail when it came to getting its fans back in the ballparks. Gone were the days when dads and sons lined up at Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium to take in an afternoon game. The Yankees and the Cubs were just like every other baseball team, traitors whose greed robbed fans of America’s pastime. Over the course of the next two and a half seasons, very little changed about the fans view of the game.
That was until Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa began pursuit of one of baseball’s most hallowed records. There are two records that are cherished by even the most cavalier of baseball fans, Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in a season and Hank Aaron’s record of 755 home runs in a career. At the all-star break at baseball’s mid-season, four players had hit 30 homeruns: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Mo Vaughn, and Ken Griffey, Jr. While the later two would eventually tale off, McGwire and Sosa would bring interest back to the game as they spent the last three months of the season trying to out hit each other.
With each man leading the chase at different points, excitement in the game returned as baseball fans tuned in daily to see if either man could conquer a record that had stood for thirty-seven years. When Mark McGwire became the first baseball player to hit more than sixty-one homeruns, baseball was truly back. With television cut-ins on many of the major networks, and the evening news programs doing daily capsules of the chase, baseball experienced its version of a revival.
Eventually, Mark McGwire would end the season with seventy homeruns. Sammy Sosa would not be far behind as he too bested Maris’ mark, with sixty-six home runs of his own. With everything that baseball had gone through, the excitement generated as McGwire and Sosa surpassed Roger Maris, resuscitated the game of baseball back on America’s conscious.
Over the years, both Mark McGwire with his admitted use of androstenedione and Sammy Sosa would have their games called into question because of the steroid controversy that has tainted the game of baseball the last five years. Andro as it is called is a muscle-enhancement that while legal in major league baseball was banned by the National Football League and the International Olympic Committee. Both McGwire and Sosa would be called to testify before a Congressional Panel on steroid use in baseball. Eventually, McGwire would have his home run record beaten by Barry Bonds an equally talented player whose own steroid usage has been questioned as well.
In July of 2007, New York Yankees slugger, Jason Giambi was interviewed by Sen. George Mitchell about steroid abuse in the game of baseball. Giambi has all but admitted to using some form of steroids while playing for the Yankees. Bonds will before the end of the season break the second of the hallowed records as he entered the all-star break of the ’07 season, four home runs shy of breaking Hank Aaron’s record.
Today, baseball stadiums all across America are filled with adoring fans that are pulling for their teams with unlimited zeal. Arguably, the game has never been more popular as it is experiencing tremendous growth in every market as teams from less successful franchises like the Chicago White Sox and the Anaheim Angels have beaten the New York Yankees in the postseason and gone on to win the World Series. Things could not be any better except for this cloud called the steroid controversy.
And yet, baseball forgets that the two men who saved baseball, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, are two men believed to have used performance-enhancing drugs. Say what you will about their testimony before Congress, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and the steroids that they used in 1998, saved the game of baseball.